What’s the hardest thing you’ve ever had to do?

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A wise man recently asked me in earnest “What’s the hardest thing you’ve ever had to do?”. I had to stall him by saying ‘give me 5 minutes to think about it’ because at that time I truly couldn’t comprehend something worthwhile enough to offer as my answer. I managed to delay it for a few days until the question was floated again, at which point i offered a sarcastic and somewhat limp response. In the hours and days since then I’ve thought about this question at length, and the fact that it look that long to come up with anything resembling an adequate answer. The question lingered with me for longer than it should have, it hung like a pregnant cloud in my thoughts, threatening to break open and release a deluge, but never actually doing so. I scuttled through the archives of my life, dusting off some of the oldest and deepest volumes of my lifetime in a bid to prompt the rain.

High School was occasionally difficult as I went through the arbitrary phase of ‘finding my identity’ which I now know to be something that will take a lifetime to truly understand. There were other battles through my adolescence, but nothing that was unique to me, nothing I would consider hard, just the acts necessary in the coming of age process. Sure, finishing University was a grind but i wouldn’t consider it hard, moving to Melbourne was an abrasive yet welcome challenge and starting my business is something that is built around a passion that is anything but hard. My life has been, almost without exception, extremely smooth sailing. I was born into a middle class loving family with plenty of support from both parents and friends to activate my passion into my profession. I have been blessed with all critical faculties necessary to enable me have a comfortable life in our society. Perhaps most importantly I have been encouraged to question and query the world around me. My father in particular urged me to sharpen my mind like his father would an axe, he would be constantly reminding me to “not believe everything you think” and to this day it’s the most important piece of advice I’ve ever received. So for that I’ve been gifted a tool with which I believe I can circumnavigate any life altering problems that may land in front of me (or so i thought). People very close to me have experienced grief on an unimagined scale, but I’ve never had to personally go through debilitating mourning myself. Hearing about and witnessing grief has been incredibly hard and to see someone you love in pain is a crushing experience. Having said that, I’ve always had separation and isolation from being directly involved in a tragic incident (touch wood) whether this be because I was to young to comprehend it or I simply wasn’t in the persons life when it occurred.

So where does that leave me in dealing with this conundrum? The cloud in my mind eventually torn itself open and unleashed the precious moisture within. What poured out and become clear was the hardest thing that I’ve ever had to go through is something that most people would have experienced – the break down of a long term relationship. As feeble and meagre as this sounds (and it feels it even as I write about it now), it was a life changing experience and one that was ultimately a necessary hardship for me to become who I am today. Throughout the years I’ve seen many of friends fall victim to the effects of a break up, some more savage and soul destroying than others, but for the most part it’s been a devastating experience. It’s been a period in their lives in which everything, every thought, every action is consumed by the loss and until I experienced it myself I honestly didn’t get it – how could it have this effect on otherwise stable men? Then it did happened to me. For a few weeks after it happened I conned myself into assassinating the feelings of loss and sadness I knew were brewing within, I worked on the logic that if I remained positive then I would happily transition into the next phase of my life. This was a simply horrid piece of thinking, in fact I don’t think I could have handled it any worse, but hey this is the first time I was going through it and there are no manuals or Youtube tutorials on how to escape something like this. After months of the most agonising mental torment I’ve ever put myself through, I managed to come out the other side, mainly due to the strength of my ex-partner, who made all the necessary yet extremely difficult decisions. I’ve seen the strongest men turn to water in the surging swell of the post break up riptide. They suddenly and completely lose the ability to swim, flailing wildly with idiotic abandon, unable to decipher where the surface is, getting crunched by every relentless wave that rolls through – myself absolutely included. Even though my fathers advice rang in my ears, I simply couldn’t separate the pain of what was happening from my thoughts and like so many people i know, I became a mess in the wreckage of a breakup. The cliche was true and like the great Neil Sedaka so eloquently put it, Breakin’ up is hard to do. Looking back on it now, I can only laugh at the ridiculous lengths i went to in the search for comfort during this time. The bullshit I told myself to cloak my true emotions were nigh on incredible and as soon as i let myself engage in what my mind was begging me to acknowledge i plunged into a deeply paradoxical state. Feeling and grieving the loss with the brevity it deserved, while also feeling satisfied that i had stopped lying to myself.

This remains the hardest thing I’ve ever had to endure and for this I’m both happy and apprehensive. I’m unreservedly grateful that my life has been a land mine free zone for the most part, I’ve always had love, friends and direction in my life and for this I will be forever imbued with positivity. Conversely, I feel like I may have missed out on some identity shaping hardships, events that would have moulded me differently and hardened me into something else other than the man I am. I know that when I was going through the phase of separating from my girlfriend i learned more about myself than I had through any other period in my life, for a time I regressed into a powerless and, quite frankly, pathetic man. Having gone through that experience I’ve emerged a more complex and better person, the hardship went to work on my psyche in a way nothing had previously or since, it cracked open my mind like a coconut and peered at the milky contents within, stirring to the surface emotions that had otherwise lay undisturbed beneath.

Why I am telling you this? That’s a good question. Most of you won’t care about any of this at all, but I feel like this whole process of thinking about what the hardest thing i’ve ever done has been profoundly cathartic. It’s certainly unlocked a fresh labyrinthine of thoughts within my mind that I’m excited/terrified to explore, which can only be a good thing in my opinion. It’s also interesting to reflect on the fragments of yourself which were lost or gained during these periods of austere bleakness. I certainly know that I changed for the better in these times and peering back at a painful past has only strengthened my present day happiness whiling steeling me for a future that will no doubt allocate me a different answer than the one I’ve provided here.

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